Chicago

by Bill - 1999-05-05 - in life / travel /


Tara and I left Nashville for Chicago on a Thursday morning. At the last minute I decided to let my cat Myca out. I figured he would return shortly after doing his "business" in the neighbor's bushes, as usual, and I could then lock him in the house for the duration of our trip. When he didn't return as expected, I put the cat door in the front window and we left. The cat door, on orders from the homeowners' association, had been out of service for almost a year, but I was confident that Myca was intelligent and resourceful enough to either remember how to use it or figure it out all over again. He didn't, but we didn't find that out until we got back.

We drove north on Interstate 65. About thirty miles outside of Nashville, just past Tara's hometown of White House, we hit a traffic jam. We learned later that it was caused by a tanker truck overturning. Anyway, we sat in virtually unmoving traffic a full excruciating hour before I finally did what several other drivers before me had done and crossed over the grass median and headed back south.

Tara suggested a minor state highway we could use to bypass the Interstate. Unfortunately, it was just as backed up. So we backtracked all the way to Nashville and picked up Interstate 24 "West" (though it runs more north than west through Nashville), then up I-57 through the heart of Illinois.

Some eight hours later, we were pulling into downtown Chicago in search of our hotel, Best Western's Inn of Chicago. Don't ever stay at this hotel. It's way overpriced: $129 for Thursday night, then $169 each for Friday and Saturday. The 1-800 reservations girl said it had an in-room jacuzzi and hair dryer, but it didn't. And they don't provide parking (though she implied that they did) or even a free continental breakfast. We didn't learn of these last two omissions until the next morning. Upon checking in and parking the car, our first order of business was dinner. We found some good Chicago-style pizza at Gino's East a couple blocks away.

The next morning, I had to pay $16 to get the car out of the garage! Upon reflection, I guess that's not completely outrageous. But when you're expecting free parking courtesy of the hotel, it hurts.

We drove south along Lake Shore Drive to the Museum of Science & Industry. That's a great museum. If you ever get the chance, go see it. In the Navy section (or whatever it's called), we rode an F-14 flight simulator, which was lots of fun. In the Human Anatomy section, there's a display of real human embryos ranging from the age of 1 day old to full-term. I found this to be fairly disturbing. Did you know that at some point (can't remember what point, exactly), the human embryo looks just like an alien? Not that I've ever actually seen an alien, of course, but I've seen movies.

Next in the museum was the plumbing exhibit, which seemed appropriate after human anatomy. Then came the electromagnetic and nuclear exhibit. At some point after that, there's the coal mine exhibit where they take you down a simulated mineshaft elevator and then put you on a little train and show you what you might expect on your next coal mining temp job. The girl giving the tour was funny. She's probably an aspiring stand-up comic.

Once finished with the museum, we returned to the hotel to cancel our Saturday night stay at the Inn of Chicago and reserve a room at a hotel on the north side of Indianapolis. I didn't want to pay another $169 when we could just as easily find something cheaper out of town. We had to park somewhere while in the hotel, of course, so we pulled into the hotel's parking garage. We were parked there a little over an hour, and the parking bill was $11!

"Eleven dollars for one hour!?" I said to the cashier.

"Well, it was an hour and 15 minutes," said the cashier.

"Good thing we took out that small loan," Tara added in disgust. The cashier had no response.

We then drove west to Oak Park and Ernest Hemingway's birthplace. We didn't enter because it looked like it was under construction. Besides, who cares? It was just the house his parents were living in when he was born. It's not like he accomplished anything there. We did spend some time in the Hemingway Museum, though, just down the street. A couple blocks away was Frank Lloyd Wright's old house/museum. It was closed for the evening, though, so we just saw it from the outside. It and most of the houses along that street had very creative designs.

Getting lost as we tried to find an onramp back onto the Interstate, we drove through the ghetto, which is always fun. The Hemingway Museum is in a very nice, upscale neighborhood of Oak Park. Looking for an onramp back to the Interstate, however — which are not easy to find in Chicago — we ended up in a decidedly bad neighborhood. I held my breath as we drove until we got to a neighborhood with White people walking around. Images of Reginald Denny getting beaten half to death during the Los Angeles riots came to mind. Yes, I know, I'm a racist.

Quick note about Chicago drivers: They love to honk their horns. As soon as the light turns green, invariably, there will be someone in line who honks their horn. Even if you're Jeff Gordon (top NASCAR driver), you won't be quick enough off the line to satisfy the driver behind you!

I pulled into a gas station for a fill-up. My visit to the cashier, a young black man, went without incident. After I had returned to the car to pump gas, however, Tara went in to get a couple Cokes. After she paid, she was flat-out told by the cashier: "Now, get outta here." Upon returning to the car, her words to me were, "We're still in a bad neighborhood." So, we got out of there as requested.

That night after returning to the hotel, Tara hailed a cab (something she specifically wanted to do) and we went to Navy Pier and had dinner at Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company (based on the movie Forrest Gump). The waitress messed up my order, but I forgave her. She was fun and friendly. She quizzed Tara on Forrest Gump trivia. Tara was up to the task, scoring nine out of ten. But, even if the waitress had been a boring idiot, it was still cool just to sit there eating, talking and enjoying the evening air with the Chicago skyline as a backdrop. After touring the pier, with Tara buying a few souvenirs and both of us buying Bubba Gump t-shirts, we caught the free shuttle back to our hotel.

The next morning, we checked out of the hotel, put our bags in the trunk of the car, and walked around downtown Chicago. Actually, it wasn't as simple as all that. Before we were allowed to leave our car overnight the previous evening, the Arabic-looking carpark attendants insisted that I leave them the key to the car. We asked why they needed it, and they said, "To make sure you pay."

Anyway, in the morning when we went to offload our baggage, I simply assumed I would have to pay the parking bill in order to get the key back, if only for the purpose of opening the car trunk. As we were on our way back out of the garage, on foot with the car still parked upstairs, the attendant whistled at us and waved us over to his cage.

"Where are you going?" the man asked from behind the counter.

"We're gonna walk around a little," I replied, wondering "Why do you care?"

"So you're keeping the car parked here?"

"Yeah, just for a little while longer."

"Then, why did you pay already?"

"I figured I had to pay to get the key so we could put our bags away."

"You could've just asked for the key," he said.

"I didn't know," I replied.

Then Tara jumped in, "We are not paying one more dime for parking!" And she tugged me away from the counter.

"Hey," I said to Tara, "it's their garage . . ." And they had my car upstairs. I wasn't about to leave in a huff with my car still upstairs vulnerable to towing.

"We are not paying another sixteen dollars!" Tara said again, madder than I had ever seen her.

"Hey," I shouted at her, "it's my car," meaning that it was my problem, not hers.

"Calm down," the attendant said to her. "I'm not going to charge you again."

"So, how do you want to handle this?" I asked him.

He conferred with the man standing next to him. They nodded at each other, took our stamped parking ticket, scratched out the timestamp with a pencil, took my key back, and said, "Here's your $16 back. You pay when you come back."

And so we left, with Tara still mad as hell: at the parking attendant and me. We then went looking for breakfast. Finding a coffee shop in a downtown high-rise mall, I had breakfast. Tara said she was still too mad to eat.

After breakfast, we walked up Michigan Avenue where all the stores are. FAO Schwarz was the first place we came to. After a few minutes in there, Tara forgave me (whatever my transgression) and distracted herself back into a better mood with a bit of shopping. Bloomingdale's was the next stop, and finally, The Viacom Store (where they have all sorts of television and Paramount movie stuff). Tara bought things for her niece.

As we pulled out of the parking garage, for good this time, Tara made the comment: "They're probably as glad to see us go as we are." Then, as if on cue, we heard clapping coming from the parking garage attendants. We both had to laugh at that.

Next stop: Milwaukee. Why? Because Tara wanted to be able to check Wisconsin off her list of states she's visited. We had lunch at an A&W on the way up. There wasn't much in Milwaukee. Not that we saw, anyway. But at least now Tara can put a checkmark next to it on her list.

We returned through Chicago enroute to our hotel in Indianapolis. The next morning we drove through and around downtown Indianapolis. Like Milwaukee, there wasn't much of anything open, but we did see some landmarks. I guess most downtowns are pretty dead on the weekends, unlike Chicago.

After Indianapolis comes Louisville (pronounced lou-a-vul by the locals). Once again, we looked for someplace to eat, but couldn't find anything downtown on a Sunday morning. I did, of course, make a point of circling Churchill Downs. If you didn't know, this is the track where the Kentucky Derby is run. I was pleasantly surprised to see a sign at one of the entrances proclaiming Churchill Downs as this year's host of the Breeder's Cup (seven championship races on the same day, all worth a minimum of $1 million) on November 7. When I commented on this, Tara said, "Something tells me we'll be coming back here."

Up to this point, I had been doing all of the driving, but Tara took the wheel from Louisville to Nashville. When we got back home, we found that the cat door was no longer in the window. "Let's hope Don and Diane [my brother and his wife] did that," we agreed. As I opened the front door, Myca was there waiting to get out. It wasn't until I called Don a couple hours later that I was told that when he and Diane came to check up on him on Saturday they found poor Myca "looking despondent" on the front step. They said it was fairly apparent that Myca never did figure out the cat door and had spent two entire days locked outside! Poor Myca. I think he'd been complaining about it to the neighbors, too, for my two closest neighbors, both pet owners, had put food and/or water dishes out for him. They probably reported me to the SPCA. Judging by the look on Diane's face later that evening as I retrieved my house keys, she had considered reporting me as well.

Anyway, Myca was fine, and Tara and I were both glad to be home. For the next several hours, Myca couldn't decide if he wanted to be inside or out, taking his revenge on me by scratching at the door every ten minutes either wanting in or wanting out.

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